Non-dual inquiry and nondual meditation are about waking up to our completeness—our natural state (what Nisargadatta Maharaj called ‘Nisarga’). Meditation is a way of living, not just a practice we sometimes do. It isn’t a strategy, a way to escape, a quick fix, or even a technique for self-improvement. Conversely, meditation is an uncensored embrace of our present experience with courage, letting life unfold as it will, but not getting enmeshed in and identifying with that unfolding. The question “Who am I?” is a tool which helps us move our focus from objects of localized consciousness to the ultimate holder of them. Self-inquiry is not psychological analysis or problem-solving, because life isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an ever-fresh interaction we immerse ourselves in and stay in receptively and wakefully.
What I have always found refreshing about the message of non-duality is that it eventually negates itself. The message, and the meditative inquiry process that it leads to, is a means and not an end; creating a non-dual person with non-dual knowledge isn’t the aim. The end of separation and isolation is not cultivated as a result of special philosophy or action; it can only be lived.
In an experiential sense, we just need to clean the mirror of Deep Knowing, to blow away the dust of imagination made of particles of desire and fear. Being your absolute Self is effortless since it’s always present—but familiarizing ourselves with our essential Aliveness through adopting a discerning focus will direct you towards it. In an absolute sense, the “mirror” is always clear.
The question “Who am I?” is a tool which helps us move our focus from objects of localized consciousness to the ultimate holder of them. Self-inquiry is not psychological analysis or problem-solving, because life isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an ever-fresh interaction we immerse ourselves in and stay in receptively and wakefully. In this way, we ask “Who am I?” with a different outlook to that of psychology or other schools of thought. Intellectual answers are not the target. In other words, we’re not speculating or dreaming up explanations (not to say that this doesn’t have its place); inquiry, in contrast, is direct observation and complete openness.
My seeking has taken all of the usual forms in more than three decades, and has led to various psychological and spiritual endeavors, which I once arrogantly considered to be the most sanctified means of seeking of them all. Subsequently, I was left with the same old questions and a lot more not-knowing, but something was comforting and familiar about my empty hands—and that presented a clue. With inquiry, I found that I was stuck and cut off by my own habitual inadvertence and narrow-sightedness because I was in the habit of taking so many things for granted. So I began to question attentively and honestly with an open mind, but to do so I had to be willing to encounter my existence in its overwhelming disconnectedness and expansiveness.
With an open receptivity, you’ll create space to summon an authentic existence. Discerning focus is a blend of skills and qualities of nondual Self-inquiry and meditation—is not about gain, it’s about truth, and sometimes truth can seem like loss. Discerning focus is asking the question “What is true?” and being prepared for incomprehensible answers.
Nondual mindfulness means to focus Awareness onto what’s taking place in the present moment. We question everything, not necessarily to gain more answers but to release your assumptions. Question to make room for the light of truth to fill every part of your unlimited capacity.
There are no right or wrong methods or outcomes of this unraveling, but we’ll explore some key principles, qualities, and skills of nondual mindfulness. Above all, everything you need is already within you, so your inquiry begins with meeting yourself exactly where you are with a heart of love and wonder.
What we will explore in this course is a lived mindfulness, a radical mindfulness, one that transcends formal spiritual practice. Even so and for some of us, a period of deliberate and determined formal practice (alertly and restfully sitting in silence with eyes closed, regularly, for example) often serves as a good primer. No lengthy process is necessary because Self is incontrovertible; once you get a taste for Self, it’ll flavor everything, just as salt imbues the entire ocean. Yes, it’s possible to fine-tune the focus of localized consciousness through the technology of meditation and Self-inquiry. The essence of meditation and inquiry practice is mindfulness. When mindfulness is radical, meditation has the potential to make clear that we are, and inquiry can make clear what we are. This fusion of “that” and “what” is powerful, transformative, and illuminating. However, any insights and answers that arise, if they are truly of Self, are non-conceptual and nonverbal, yet Deeply Known nevertheless. Likewise, there’s no point in holding on to the hammer once we’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head.
The ego (a bundle of desire and fear) gradually claims pure consciousness like a parasite, and starts to infer in duality a separate self with a personal existence which needs reinforcing and defending. The individual becomes seemingly divided in duality—in-divi-dual—thereby disguising oneness as the egoic mind. One manifestation of this is the assertion “I am someone/something in particular.” Notice how the ego bypasses the “I am” part of this self-knowledge. The “I am” is so close, but being constantly preoccupied with desire and fear, the ego can’t handle this Aliveness. Therefore, we must inquire into the nature of this “I”—to liberate it from its false imprisonment. This process is what spiritual inquiry and meditation boils down to.
In inquiry, we don’t question to get hold of answers but to release our assumptions. We inquire (and meditate) to extend our focus of consciousness and to welcome that which we can’t capture with words or thought. Therein lies genuine peace, understanding, and contentment. Because, after all, this unquantifiable no-thing is the “answer” we most desire, not the half-baked, contradictory hand-me-downs we’re accustomed to. Beyond knowledge and its definable world, you know this. When, through being earnest, this fact hits home experientially, and we realize that conclusions are just sticking Band-Aids, we find a way of living with the reality that no valid answers will be forthcoming. There’s a surprising equanimity in this. We stop trying to impose conceptual boundaries, and life’s fullness shines more brightly—a fullness which transcends and exists before the mind.
The discerning focus you’ll cultivate can continue throughout daily activity in any environment and in any circumstance. This means that there’s no need to give up “mundane” activities and retreat to a cave. A shift in focus doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll no longer face challenges. We can, nevertheless, do our best not to run away from them and to tune into a more expanded perspective—to see both the forest and the trees. Everything can become a way if we’re curious, detached, earnest, and receptive.
Gradually, nondual mindfulness (a shift from mind to fullness) will become increasingly subtle until it becomes a natural way of living. Undoubtedly, it is a characteristic of the mind to be very restless, so try to welcome the notion of shifting your focus beyond the mind to that which isn’t caught up in distorted superficiality. If you’re curious, you’ve already made a significant leap of consciousness!
Without inquiry, the fictitious continuity, permanence, and solid self-concept that are the projections of your imagination will continue to be compelling, given meaning by the filters of desire and fear. All these compelling stories depend on drama infused with moments of equilibrium and disequilibrium, yin and yang. You’re so used to existing in this conceptual prison that you’ve blindly assumed it has to be this way, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. Discriminating between the real (the unlimited) and the unreal (the limited) will reveal to you that you’re already inseparably connected to the one life. This is liberation from dualistic imagination, as the great spiritual teachers have told us for centuries.
Nisargadatta’s Maharaj’s Nisarga Yoga means to stay attentive to one’s Beingness. This is most effective and transformative when we’re attentive to Being without effort or pretense, when we naturally live meditatively and inquiringly and are familiar with shifting the focus of Consciousness. This is the continual encounter of Self-intimacy, to surrender our “small” lives to our vast lives and to let them be our teacher, to wonder earnestly, to investigate, till we arrive at the crux of the mind’s misunderstanding and thus to the clarity of non-dual Knowing beyond the illusory. Then we discover that it’s impossible to be isolated or afraid because we are everything. What is there to be scared of? Who is missing from our lives? Yes, suffering may fleetingly pass through us, and we feel them fully, but we aren’t fooled into claiming them. We know the difference between superficial experience and Truth. This is the utmost secure human existence; it’s true friendship, harmony, and wholeness, real intimacy of Self-with-Self.
Meditation, to me, is a tool for recognizing clearly; with practice, falsehoods and distractions are cast off, and then with earnestness and devotion one focuses on what remains, thus becoming awake to truth. Meditation has been mystified, commercialized, and commodified. In truth, meditation is the simple act of watching wherefrom Aliveness originates, therefore absorbing the body and mind in that nameless no-thing that remains. It’s the practice of mindfulness; being alert to what’s going on in the present moment with lucidity and gentleness. In doing so, we can witness with clarity both the “the forest and the trees”—a varifocal insight, if you will. If truth be told, we can do this on and off the meditation mat.
Even amidst everyday activity, we can find that this receptivity is happening under the surface of the mind and is readily available. We need to create space in the restless stream of thought to access it. We do this by observing it and returning again and again to our focus of localized consciousness. This helps us appreciate that fleeting phenomena—thoughts, emotions, sensations, and mental images—arise from Awareness (which I call Deep Knowing) and fall back into Awareness, and that knowing, albeit frequently obscured, is undeviating. Ordinary existence continues, but we are in touch with our most loyal companion—our Aliveness—which connects us to our original home.
Meditation is a way of living, not just a practice we sometimes do. It isn’t a strategy, a way to escape, a quick fix, or even a technique for self-improvement. Conversely, meditation is an uncensored embrace of our present experience with courage, letting life unfold as it will, but not getting enmeshed in and identifying with that unfolding. This loving, existential embrace reveals the way to healing, to deeper understanding, to authentic unity with the universal. Suffering, if held and assimilated into universal Consciousness and no longer escaped and shunned, teaches us to be even more sensitive and receptive to contented possibilities of truth.